Building - Memoir by Pat West


Sometime in the late fall of 1985, my best hope for the end of my marriage was destroyed. My husband was in the habit of getting drunk, then riding his BMW motorcycle the 20 miles to his favorite bar. Every time he rode off, I hoped for him to crash, burn and die. But one night he missed the kick-starter and knocked the gas hose off instead. The motorcycle slipped from his hands, crashed to the ground, caught fire and burned without him.

I had a tom turkey who was deeply in love with that motorcycle. The next morning I watched my grief-stricken bird walk round and round his burned up love. I felt as brokenhearted as the tom turkey and as burned out as the motorcycle.

I couldn’t keep living so consumed by hate- could not leave my four kids- did not want to leave my land overlooking the New River. I’d been a wife and mother for 21 years, had no job skills, and it had taken two years of saving gross receipts from my art sales to get the $4000 that I had hidden away.

I don’t recall just how it came about that I decided to build my own house. I do remember a gray January day- I was down the hill near an old rock pile. This was the first time I’d set foot in that place since burying my poor foal years ago. I’d wailed while piling rocks over the small horse that I had killed in my frantic attempt to save her. Now I kicked at her yellow rib bones and wept for myself. Something more must have happened that day because by February I was back down at the rock piles, cleaning up the ancient trash- buying a book on How To Build a House-asking a stonemason how to mix cement- digging holes, lifting rocks, mixing and carrying pans and pans and pans of cement- starting to

I’m not sure why I started writing notes every night. Maybe to make the building seem real when I was back up the hill in the bedroom, hating the sound of husband’s breathing. Maybe with the dying light of the day, I just wanted to be back down the hill, building. I understood very well what drove me to build- but not why I wrote. My own words have never been my friends. I have tripped over them my whole life.

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